Customer loyalty is in a delicate state in the whole context of establishing brand loyalty as a principle. Research from nShift reveals that two in five consumers have changed the brands or retailers they shop with since the onset of the pandemic. This is backed up by separate data from Fresh Relevance, which says that 35% of consumers are now trying new vendors and brands, and will switch from a brand they have used previously.
This can be extremely disconcerting for many online brands – especially those that have thrived during the peak of the pandemic.
After all, data from Credit Karma shows that 70% of Brits say that buying online and on mobile are now their preferred shopping methods, up from 50% pre-pandemic. With brick-and-mortar stores shut, supply chain disruption and the fear that inventory would run low, there was a compelling reason for consumers to buy online. With the pandemic (almost) behind us now, many ecommerce businesses are now realizing that the issues that once drove shoppers to buy online during its peak no longer apply to the same extent.
However, brands have gained one great advantage over their pre-pandemic position – they have got more customers over the line in terms of buying something. They have gained a sale, some data, and some trust and this must not be squandered.
Building Brand Loyalty and Trust: Reviews, Reviews, Reviews
Reviews are some of the biggest sales tools out there and they are becoming increasingly important for shoppers when making the final decision to complete at checkout. Nearly 90% of customers read a review before making a purchase. Not only can a positive review help tip the scales in a retailer’s favor, but more reviews can add credibility – and therefore trust – to an offering. They can also provide additional context to the product on offer and reduce the rate of returns, as customers will be able to make a well-informed decision.
This means that customers – especially those that return time and time again – must have their voices heard.
Nothing garners trust like peer reviews, and the more authoritative they can be, the better. Of course, for many shoppers, the thought of writing a review can be time-consuming and not worth their while. This is where incentives can be a good option, such as offering customers a discount or a donation for any review given (good or bad) or even gamify the experience by offering a reward or competition entry for every review submitted. This will eventually turn these customers into identifiable advocates, increase the chances of gaining new customers and gain that highly desired advantage against any competitors – demonstrable customer trust.
Communication: Make Data Actionable
Brands that sell direct-to-consumer (D2C) have access to a plethora of first-party customer data, which, when used can give extreme insight into who their customers are and their shopping patterns and preferences. It is therefore key that brands that have access to this data are using it effectively in their marketing efforts.
This can range from understanding what items they are searching for and purchasing (so you know which inventory to prioritize), to knowing how customers like to be communicated with and how frequently. This allows brands to trigger campaigns for the time when customers are most receptive (this might be time of day, or a specific time after purchase), and learn how often to push it. Finding a balance when communicating with customers is important – it must be enough that they keep your brand front of mind, but being too persistent can have a negative impact on brand favorability and be annoying.
Smart triggered marketing (from the likes of Klaviyo or Dotmailer) can also help ensure that customers return and subsequently purchase. These platforms not only gather data that can deliver insights, but also give merchants the tools to act on those insights. As well as this, brands can invest in additional insight tools that can help identify new customer profiles – opening up new untapped markets and segments.
Customer Experience: Optimizing and Personalizing with AI
The moment a customer returns to an online store, it is crucial that their visit is not wasted. To ensure they are getting the most out of their visit, an optimised and relevant customer experience should be the main priority to ensure they continue to return.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) now has a huge impact on how seamless and relevant an online experience is for customers. If a customer has a query – at any time of the day or night – AI chatbots can be on hand to ensure that questions are answered efficiently, and those that also incorporate natural language processing can have an added advantage. Moreover, AI powered recommendation tools can present the most appropriate products to customers as fast as possible, and arrange categories in the optimal order for conversion.
AI can also support in personalizing shopping offers to suit customers.
Supermarket loyalty schemes are masters at this – if a brand knows its customer regularly buys a certain product or brand, it makes sense to harness AI to push out smart offers or discounts on these products for next time or deliver appropriate suggestions for similar products they might like. Being able to truly understand customers and personalize the experience through AI technology can be a huge advantage for merchants and can give customers a real incentive to return.
The last two extraordinary years of pandemic life have presented new opportunities for brands to acquire new customers as more consumers sought to shop online. As we come out of the pandemic, online shopping habits persist, but all the new customers gained over recent years still need to be converted into long-term loyalists. Authoritative reviews, appropriate and insightful triggered marketing, smart customer services and relevant product recommendations and offers are four powerful tools that can help in this battle. Applied correctly, this four pronged approach to brand loyalty can be used by merchants – across all sectors – to increase their chances of gaining real customer engagement and maintaining it for the long haul.
Article originally appeared in AIthority on May 26, 2022